Any college student who has been accused of sexual misconduct faces an uncertain future, at best. Colleges and universities face intense pressure to aggressively pursue allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault—not only to maintain an irreproachable reputation, but also because they can lose federal funding if they don't. Unfortunately, these schools also now face the challenge of adapting their policies to rule changes recently set in place by the Department of Education, making the entire disciplinary process more confusing.
None of this bodes well for the student accused of sexual misconduct. Between the pressure placed on schools and the confusion around the new rules, the risk is higher for the accused to be denied due process and unfairly disciplined—consequently putting their career in jeopardy. If you're a student in Maryland who has recently been accused of sexual misconduct, here's what you need to know to ensure your rights are protected.
Rule Changes Regarding Misconduct Allegations
Title IX was implemented to protect students from discrimination on the basis of sex in educational institutions that receive federal funds. For years, Title IX has been interpreted to include protections against sexual harassment, and schools have implemented policies to comply with federal rules regarding its enforcement. However, in May 2020, the United States Department of Education implemented new regulations for the 2020-21 school year that may drastically change how schools respond to sexual conduct allegations. The changes include the following:
- A live hearing process for students, faculty, and staff accused of misconduct, including cross-examination of witnesses. A witness must participate in the live hearing for their testimony to be considered material to the investigation. This rule is (at least in theory) intended to offer more protections for those falsely accused of sexual misconduct.
- Changes in off-campus jurisdictions. Colleges and universities must now investigate any alleged incidents of sexual misconduct occurring at locations and events under which they have “substantial control,” both on- and off-campus. This jurisdiction extends to off-campus fraternity and sorority houses, but not to other off-campus housing—nor does it extend protections to students studying abroad.
- Schools must have “actual knowledge” of the alleged incidents to be held responsible for them. Before this rule change, a school could be penalized by the DOE if it deemed the school should have “reasonably known” about the alleged incident.
Redefining Sexual Misconduct
Perhaps the most significant rule change is that the DOE has narrowed its definition of “sexual misconduct.” Previously, any unwelcome content of a sexual nature qualified as sexual misconduct under Title IX. Under the new rules, it is limited to the following three categories:
- Instances of dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking;
- Quid pro quo harassment (generally referring to faculty or staff attempting to leverage favors for sexual acts); and
- “Unwelcome conduct so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it denies someone equal access to education.”
Under the third point, in particular, the terms “objectively offensive” and “denying someone equal access to education” not only create ambiguity in the definition, but also limit the scope of what constitutes harassment and what the school is legally obligated to pursue. Strictly speaking, if the act of sexual harassment doesn't hinder the victim's “equal access,” it doesn't fall under the school's obligations under Title IX.
Policy Changes in Maryland Colleges and Universities
While these narrowed definitions apply across the board to colleges and universities who receive federal funding, they don't prevent schools from implementing separate policies regarding sexual misconduct. Many schools, including some in Maryland, are doing just that: creating new school-wide sexual misconduct policies in the name of preserving existing protections for students.
What These Changes Mean for the Accused
The changes in DOE rules were designed to make it easier for students falsely accused of sexual misconduct to defend themselves. However, for the time being, the changes may only serve to muddy the waters. Some misconduct cases that no longer fall within Title IX guidelines may fall under individual school disciplinary policies. These policy changes will differ from school to school, and they may continue to be revised to bring more clarity. The new DOE rules themselves already face legal challenges by the Attorneys General for 18 states, and they may face additional changes with the next presidential administration.
The upshot is that students accused of sexual misconduct may have a more difficult time navigating the disciplinary process, not an easier one. With so many different policies and so many rules in flux, the chances of being unfairly treated or denied due process go up considerably.
Why Hire an Attorney-Advisor
Whether you understand the rules and disciplinary policies or not, if a college or university decides to discipline you for sexual misconduct allegations, it could throw your professional reputation and your future career into jeopardy. Hiring an attorney-advisor can significantly improve your odds in such cases. The experienced advisor makes a point of staying up-to-date on the latest DOE rules and individual school misconduct policies, and from this information can advise the student on his/her rights and the best path forward. The advisor will also help you prepare your own defense by gathering key evidence and helping your procure witnesses. Furthermore, the involvement of an attorney-advisor helps the school itself remain accountable to provide due process protections for the student during the investigation, hearing, and (if applicable) appeals process. All these factors work in your favor to improve your chances of proving your innocence and rescuing your educational future.
Experienced Maryland College Sexual Misconduct Advisor
As a student attending college or university in Maryland, you should reach out to an experienced attorney-advisor as soon as you receive notice that you have been accused of sexual harassment or misconduct. The Lento Law Firm has successfully helped students through disciplinary proceedings at colleges and universities across the country. As one of the nation's preeminent experts in student discipline defense, Joseph D. Lento can help ensure your rights are protected while helping you protect your good name and academic future. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 to learn more.
Maryland colleges and universities where Joseph D. Lento can help as your or your student's college sexual misconduct advisor during investigations, hearings, and appeals include, but are not limited to, the following schools:
- Bowie State University
- Capitol Technology University
- Coppin State University
- Frostburg State University
- Goucher College
- Hood College
- Johns Hopkins University
- Loyola University Maryland
- Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA)
- Maryland University of Integrative Health
- McDaniel College
- Morgan State University
- Mount St. Mary's University
- Notre Dame of Maryland University
- St. John's College
- St. Mary's College of Maryland
- Salisbury University
- Stevenson University
- Towson University
- United States Naval Academy (exempt from Title IX and the Clery Act)
- University of Baltimore
- University of Maryland, Baltimore
- University of Maryland, Baltimore County
- University of Maryland, College Park
- University of Maryland, Eastern Shore
- University of Maryland, University College
- University of Maryland, Biotechnology Institute
- University of Maryland, Environmental Science
- USM Hagerstown
- Universities at Shady Grove
- Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (exempt from Title IX and the Clery Act)
It is critical to make certain the college sexual misconduct investigation at your Maryland school is handled properly and that the accused student's interests are protected from as early as possible during the sexual misconduct investigative process. One major reason is because even at colleges and universities where a finding of responsibility for sexual misconduct charges is made at a hearing, the investigation will set the stage for what the hearing panel is provided prior to a hearing (and what the hearing panel will in large part rely on at a hearing), and at schools where the finding of responsibility is made solely through the investigative process, what takes place during the investigation itself will determine whether the accused is found responsible or not responsible for college sexual misconduct charges.
Unfortunately, some students, families, and college employees make the mistake of not taking the necessary precautions as soon as possible when accused of sexual misconduct at college. Some people will mistakenly believe that if they "just explain what happened," their college or university will be fair and impartial and will arrive at the truth. In a perfect world this may be the case, but in a perfect world, sexual misconduct cases would not exist.
Fighting passionately for the future of his clients at universities and colleges throughout the nation for many years, Joseph D. Lento knows how important it is to mount the strongest defense because he understands that an accused's academic and professional future is on the line. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. Joseph Lento is a licensed attorney in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, is admitted as an attorney pro hac vice in state and federal court if needed when representing clients nationwide, and serves as a college sexual misconduct advisor to students and others in academia facing sexual misconduct investigations and Title IX disciplinary cases in Maryland and throughout the nation. Make certain your or your student's interests are protected - Contact National College Sexual Misconduct Attorney Joseph D. Lento today at 888-535-3686 or by completing our online form.